Genetic factors, environmental influences and psychological factors and disease can affect both a child’s cognitive development and physical growth. This is why parents, doctors and teachers should routinely assess children’s patterns of development throughout the years so the children can reach certain developmental milestones they are expected to achieve.
Biology plays a significant role in a child’s healthy development. Genes are a biological risk factor that cannot be changed. However, even though a child’s genetic background can predispose her to certain inherited diseases and disorders, early interventions can improve the outcome these risk factors may have on a child’s physical and cognitive growth and development. This is especially crucial when dealing with genetic conditions that are not preventable.
There are other biological risk factors that can affect a child’s development and growth either directly or indirectly. Tobacco, alcohol, malnutrition, medications, recreational drugs or other chemical agents can affect the growth of a fetus. Not only can these substances cause birth defects, but they can also affect a child’s cognitive growth in the later developmental stages. Unfortunately, the effects of these risk factors on a child’s learning and behavior may not become obvious for years.
Acute and chronic illness often put a child at an increased risk of developing additional health problems along with emotional and behavioral problems. Physical disabilities can also lead to social isolation, which may have a significant impact on a child’s educational outcome and in turn affect an individual’s ability to secure long-term employment in adulthood. Along with the physical and cognitive limitations a child may face because of a medical illness, these impairments can impede the child’s ability to communicate and interact socially with her peers. This may eventually lead to the child becoming socially stigmatized, which can have further negative effects on the individual’s physical health.
A comprehensive longitudinal study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has been assessing various areas of a child’s development beginning at birth through adolescence. Researchers measure children’s physical, social, emotional and behavioral development at frequent intervals to predict the impact the quality of maternal and non-maternal care giving has on a child’s cognitive development. The findings of the study support the idea that the quality of care giving is a strong indicator of a child’s cognitive abilities and social competence. The quality of maternal care giving appears to be the strongest predictor for success.
Parenting style is another factor that affects a child’s cognitive development. A parent’s values and beliefs influence how a child understands what goes on around him. Although some parenting styles may be unresponsive to a child’s needs and demand conformity, others encourage academic achievement, self-confidence, independence and maturity.
Social relationships play another vital role in a child’s cognitive development. Social cognition is seen as being key to the learning process, as learning requires that a child be able to interact effectively with others. Play is one of the first social interactions that contributes to a child’s ability to learn. Later, as a child becomes involved in different social activities with other children, he learns how to solve problems. Cultural influences also affect a child’s cognitive development, one of the most persistent cultural influences being the school system.